It Falls to GDS to Expose Us to Varying Political Views

Digital illustration by Nava Mach.

Growing up, I remember frequent dinners with extended family, listening to my conservative and liberal relatives discuss political issues. Hearing both sides has allowed me to form and feel assured in my own political identity. 

In my two years at GDS, I’ve realized that most of my peers have not had the same political exposure as me. Washington, D.C., is ranked as the second most liberal city in the U.S., right behind San Francisco, according to World Population Review. In the 2020 presidential election, 92.1% of Washingtonians voted for Joe Biden. 

Even among D.C. schools, GDS has a reputation of being overwhelmingly liberal. Whenever I tell someone I go to GDS, they are quick to ask me, “Do students there even know what conservatives or Republicans believe? Or do they just associate ‘conservative’ with ‘bad’ or ‘racist’?”

I’m concerned for GDS students. We rarely encounter conservative viewpoints, and when we do hear about them, it’s from a liberal perspective. 

Many people in the GDS community associate all conservatives with racist and homophobic right-wing radicals who aren’t even worth debating. That frustrates me because some of my conservative family members and friends are people of color and others are members of the LGBTQ+ community—they don’t fit that stereotype at all.

The political makeup at GDS does not represent our country. How are we supposed to engage with our peers outside of the GDS community when we aren’t being exposed to people whose views don’t align with the majority of the school?

We, like everyone, need to be challenged by people who disagree and be given the opportunity to defend our views and try on different ideas. We are in for a rude awakening when we leave the GDS bubble. 

There is certainly a so-called correct political persuasion at GDS. If you aren’t liberal or left-leaning, you are considered an outcast at school, even though the GDS website says, “At GDS, we cultivate a warm, diverse, inclusive community.”

 “It gets to a point where sometimes people are pretty non-accepting of even small deviations from the one opinion that’s considered politically correct,” senior Avani Ahuja told me.

I remember when a GDS friend told me not to date a guy because he was a “Trumpie,” even though she wasn’t even sure he supports Trump. Nothing else about him mattered to my friend, only his supposed politics. Many GDS students I know would agree. 

GDS may not be responsible for students’ closed-mindedness, but for our sake, the school should make an effort to counteract that mindset before we graduate and venture off into the real world. One way for teachers and administrators to do that would be to prioritize political diversity among guest speakers in classes and at assemblies.

Jeffrey Goldberg, a former GDS parent and the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, said in an interview that “the more GDS can do to teach its students that people with differing viewpoints are not axiomatically enemies, the better off GDS students will be, not only intellectually, but in their future academic careers and professions.”

Sophomore Malcolm Baar said that at GDS, non-liberal students “are shunned by other people, and what they think doesn’t matter. It’s seen as irrelevant.”

If GDS helped us engage in more conversations with people who don’t agree, students could break the habit of mindlessly subscribing to partisan views. 

GDS takes pride in enrolling students and hiring teachers of different backgrounds with regard to race, ethnicity, gender identity and socioeconomic status. Even though the school has diversity in those areas, it lacks political diversity, so it is all the more important that the school try to expose its students to different viewpoints in the classroom. 

I understand that it is hard for GDS to bring in right-leaning assembly speakers since D.C. is so liberal, but we’ve brought in speakers from all over the country. The school’s liberal atmosphere may not be appealing to some conservatives, but assuming that fact without trying is itself a part of the problem that a more politically diverse lineup of speakers could help combat. And reaching across the aisle is a major conservative talking point.

Assemblies shouldn’t just be a way for the school to endorse speakers, but a way to foster political engagement. As we all know, GDS students like to challenge assembly speakers. Diversity of opinion fuels discourse. 

Sophomore Joe Finkelstein believes that not learning about other viewpoints restricts students’ ability to engage across the political spectrum. Even if your mind isn’t changed, he said, “understanding the opposite viewpoint gives you a better ability to argue against it.”

“Diversity is hugely important,” Goldberg said, “but if you have a community in which people from diverse racial, ethnic, religious and gender backgrounds all think exactly the same way, you are not fully diverse.”